Honey Boy (2019)

“So where do we start?”

Steeped in sadness with a few packets of sugary love spooned in for good measure, Honey Boy is a therapy session that takes place inside a glass castle for all to observe. It’s both profound and simple. Bitter yet sweet. As embattled as it is longing for a warm embrace. That’s the pure, unfiltered brew of this deeply affecting picture, especially given the license to explore the many effects of intensely personal trauma. This movie understands pain – where/what/whom it comes from – and how its infliction can just as easily be born from a place of loathing as it can from love. Rarely do you come across a film quite as thoughtful or as touching as Honey Boy. If it feels like you’re watching a journal entry play out on the screen, it’s because that’s exactly where this seed was sown. Movies don’t get much more intimate.

Multiple storylines collide together like separately driven T-bone car crashes to convey a fictionalized telling of a real life. Written by Shia LaBeoufHoney Boy unlocks and opens up to the struggles inside this pandora box of fame, putting his rough and tumble past up on the screen for all to see. And while it’s an autobiographical memoir at its core, Honey Boy infuses this heartfelt homage to a checkered past with LaBeaouf’s unmistakable creative streak. In the opening scene, Otis (Lucas Hedges, a stand in for LeBeaouf in his troubled early twenties) is clearly meant to be on the big set of a Transformers like blockbuster. An explosion occurs, he’s pulled back on wires while screaming. Then he descends back to the mark for another go after the dust settles. This is crucial, visual information. Otis is exploited on camera, and we see he’s no stranger to the exploits of those who long to control him.

Hedges is perfectly cast as Otis, literally walking and talking in the exact same abrasive, rabid tempo as LaBeouf once carried himself. He’s such a prepared actor. But this young adult version of Otis is more on display for us to decipher and understand how the bulk of his upbringing brought him to this volatile point. So that’s why most of the film follows the boyish Otis (Noah Jupe) clearly performing on a show easily likened to LaBeouf’s time on Disney’s Even Stevens. At this stage, Otis lives with his ramshackle father James (Shia LaBeouf) in a motel room. James is such a peculiar man. He’s a recovering addict trying to promote the talents of his son while being whisked around on the boy’s short coattails, and he seems to be a failed clown act who has more acts than he has characters. James knows that Otis is the breadwinner of their odd-couple relationship. The boy eventually learns this too. His dad calls him Honey Boy, but maybe it’s because he sees Otis more as a hive for success than he does as a son. It certainly feels that way.

There’s so much authorship on display in Honey Boy. Directed by Alma Har’el (an extraordinary talent who previously helmed Sigur Rós’ expressionistic and painful music video for Fjögur Píanó starring LaBeouf), the filmmaker imbues the picture with such intimacy, stirring up chaos when necessary and locking in on the intimate moments when conversation needs to happen between the audience and actor’s eyes. Honey Boy is always a convincing and artistic look at the trials and errors of celebrity culture, and the film is never more poignant than when the camera lingers on the many layers of LaBeouf’s supporting performance. He’s inhabiting his dad, looking at the remarkable Noah Jupe who’s playing his younger self, and the scenes between the two are some of the most mesmerizing, mirrored, meta moments of reality I’ve ever seen on the big screen. Honey Boy is an overwhelmingly thoughtful depiction of PTSD, the rocky road to recovery, and how the bonds that can break us down are the same ones that can build us back up if we open our hearts up to the act of forgiveness. It’s all about being seen and heard and understood.

“It’s okay to be frustrated.”

Rating: 4 out of 5

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